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Thursday, February 27, 2014


(Astrith Baltsan)

A most unusual and rewarding evening. (Review by Michael Green)

The biggest audience I can remember seeing at a Friends of Music concert, about 300 people, gathered at the Durban Jewish Centre for a performance by the Israeli pianist and music historian Astrith Baltsan.

She is a concert pianist of high rank but she seems to have made her international reputation with a combination of piano recital and lecture, aided by recordings, video clips and other sophisticated devices.

She has spent many years researching the origins of the Israeli national anthem, Hatikva. This is at the core of her performance, and she kept her Durban audience  informed, entertained and amused with her scholarly but totally unpretentious  presentation of music, history and anecdote.

Astrith Baltsan, who is 57, has a notable musical environment;  her husband, Moshe Zorman, is a composer and their three children are all musicians. She impressed her Durban audience with her great vitality, informality, humour and knowledge.  She is obviously a born communicator. The song Hatikva is essentially an expression of hope, and this message was driven home by the speaker, most poignantly in a video of Belsen survivors singing the anthem after their release at the end of the Second World War.

As a pianist Dr Baltsan (she is a doctor of music) displayed her skills in arrangements of Chopin’s first piano concerto and Bedrich Smetana’s orchestral tone poem Die Moldau, a sound picture of a great river, and in Mozart’s well-known variations on Ah, vous dirae-je, Maman, a French folk tune (“Shall I tell you, mother”) that has been used in many children’s songs, such as Twinkle, twinkle, little star.

This was a most unusual and rewarding evening, and one that left the audience pleased and happy.

The Prelude Performer of the evening, supported by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was Kelsey Rogers, a violinist who has just matriculated at Crawford North Coast school. She played works by Handel and Albeniz and was accompanied at the piano by Nina Watson. - Michael Green